This post is a response to September’s mid-month short story challenge. Click on the link in the previous sentence to read the prompt, share your story, and read those written by others.
Every time I think about it, I can’t help but laugh or cry. I realize those are two actions that don’t particularly go together — unless you’re laughing so hard you’re crying, and I can assure you, I’m not in this context — yet they’re all I can do when I consider its lurking presence.
From a young age, my mother tried her hardest to keep me in a cultural bubble. Her argument was that I needed to stay away from the temptations of the world in order to get closer to God. If my mind were to get corrupted with the poisons of sexuality, feminism, or education, I would be led astray from the life that He wants me to live. The only safe way to live with under her ever watchful eye, coupled with frequent prayer, Bible study, and church attendance.
The exposure to religion in and of itself wasn’t a bad thing. There’s a ton of lessons you can take from the teachings of Jesus Christ, even if you don’t believe in Christianity. The same can be said — rightly, I might add — of most, if not all major religions in existence today. In my youth, I learned that you should love everyone equally. I learned that stealing and killing people are both bad things. I learned that you should do your best to help those who are in peril, even if you’re struggling in your own right. I’ve always loved the parable of the good Samaritan in particular for that very lesson. Though I’ve drifted (strongly) away from any sort of belief in a higher power of any kind, I don’t see religion as a problem with the world. I see people as a much more dire threat.
My mother is one of those threats, though she doesn’t see herself that way. Hell, even her local police department doesn’t see her as anything more than a nuisance. There’s a need that she has ingrained within her to have control. She wants nothing more than to the world to be shaped in her own image. If you ask her, she’ll tell you that image is nothing more than the image God wants in the Bible. But there’s nothing biblical nor godly about actively discriminating against others because they look nothing like you. Just because someone doesn’t believe the same as you doesn’t mean you should hate them.
There’s a second trait that, when coupled with my mother’s desires for control and the raising up of those, and only those, who look, think, and act like her, makes for a scary combination. The trait of hers that I fear above all others is her willingness to perpetually and unabashedly lie to anyone and everyone.
As children, we instinctively trust our parents. After all, they brought us into this world. They clothed us, bathed us, protected us, cared for us — all tasks that are noble and necessary in their own rights. It makes complete sense that we’d trust them. The fallacy in doing so is that we, as children, may be trusting someone whose world view leads us far off of the path of reality. Instead, our mind shapes the world as this grotesque place where there’s no one to trust and no one to care for you. Except, of course, those who are shaping your mind.
I remember the first time I knew my mother was lying to me. My grandmother had bought me a red bicycle for Christmas the year prior. For the majority of the next few summers, I could reliably be found cycling around the alleys and yards in my neighborhood, just as my friends did. Sometime early in the first summer of having the bicycle, my best friend, Adam, got a little plastic license plate with his name on it. His dad had attached it underneath the seat of his bike with zipties. Every time Adam hit a large bump, the plastic would clink off of the bar that held his seat on the bike. I wanted a license plate of my own. Nothing could convince me otherwise.
I had taken to calling myself Eddie sometime around the start of the fourth grade. This occurrence annoyed my mother to no end. After weeks of pleading, my mother agreed to buy me a license plate for my bike the next time we went to the store. Upon arriving at the store, I sprinted to the back of the building, found the bike aisle, and located my name — Eddie — from the shelf of plates. My mother joined me in the aisle a moment later, grabbed a plate with my given name — Edward — off the shelf, and began walking to the registers.
“Put that down,” she said. “We need to go check out.”
“But this one has my name on it,” I replied, trying to plead my case more with the tone of my voice than my words.
“There weren’t any that said Eddie, so you’re going to have to be fine with Edward.”
“But Mom! This one says Eddie!”
“No it doesn’t. Put it down now or you’re not getting a plate and you’re grounded.”
It was a simple, trivial lie. A three dollar plastic trinket shouldn’t have made such an impact on my life. After that moment, I began to notice the frequency and scope of her lies. My high school life was filled with short-lived relationships that rarely made it more than a month. Despite this, my mom would always manage to find out the cultural heritage of the person I was dating. Within days, her research — “research” that came from God knows where because we didn’t even have dialup at the time — would turn up that I had the same heritage as my new girlfriend. In fact, there’s a chance I could be related to her, so I better not date that girl. My mother frequently told me and other members of my family how she regularly donated to the local chapter of the United Way. I figured with how much she claimed to have donated, getting a summer job working for them would be a breeze. I walked in and they had no idea who my mother was. Come to find out her boundless philanthropy was nothing more than a tall tale.
The worst offense came when I was finishing graduate school. I was on vacation with a few of my friends in Long Beach at the time. It was my first time outside the state of West Virginia in my entire life. I was bound and determined to enjoy it to the fullest. On the second day of my trip, my cousin called me to tell me that my grandfather had died. His health had been failing for years, so his passing didn’t come as a particular shock. I looked into how much it would cost me to change my flight to come back a few days early to attend his funeral, however I was in no financial position to be able to do so. I called my mom to tell her the unfortunate news, fully expecting go get the guilt trip of the century.
Instead, I received fifty minutes of my mother explaining how my grandfather — whose death I had only found out about a few hours prior — wasn’t actually my grandfather. And my grandmother wasn’t actually my grandmother. She rambled about how my grandfather and grandmother had abducted her from her real family. And that real family was some other part of my actual family. Second cousins maybe? The tangled web she weaved in less than an hour was enough to make my head spin. About half way through, I stopped actually listening and resorted to making affirmative noises every time she paused in her monologue. She didn’t notice the difference.
I’m not certain why she decided to disavow her own parents. Maybe my grandpa cut her out of the will. Maybe they had a fight before he died and she didn’t have a chance to apologize, so she was justifying it to herself in a horribly warped way. I’m really not sure why she does what she does. I frankly don’t care. What worries me, however, is that I know a part of her is in me. I’ve tried my hardest to bury it deep inside of me, to learn to repress it with education and exposure to diverse peoples. I try my hardest to act with honesty and integrity at every opportunity.
It’s there though. Every sticky situation I try to get myself out of with shifty actions and quick-witted word play is just a part of her coming out of me. Every relationship I’ve tried to save or break with falsehoods is just me treating that other person the same way my mother has treated others for so long. I try to tell myself that I’m not her. That I’m nothing like her. And most of the time, I’m not. I don’t make up an alternate world because I can’t control the world around me. The world has gone to fuck right now, so I’m certain this would be the best time to do it (if there ever was one). But I know I won’t be able to shut it out forever. The demon within me cannot totally be slain. It can only be caged for as long as my mental faculties allow. I just pray to whatever god will listen that the day I can’t control it doesn’t come until after I’ve passed on.